Case Study: Birmingham City Council

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Case study

Targeting hard-to-reach groups averted a huge slump in the number of people registering to vote for Birmingham City Council in 2015.

The elected members of Birmingham City Council were more worried than usual about the state of the city’s Electoral Register in 2015.

New rules on voter registration were to come into force after local elections in May that year, and Birmingham councillors had been told that as many as 140,000 voters could simply disappear from the register as a result.

Birmingham Elections Office wanted the support of the council’s Marketing and Communications Team to counter the potentially negative effects of Individual Electoral Registration (IER), which meant that everyone newly registering in a household would have to do so personally instead of being added to the registration form by whoever was tasked with filling it in each autumn.

Most particularly, IER was likely to affect: young people registering to vote for the first time (and the 18-24 age group had much lower registration rates than average anyway); older people moving into new accommodation with family or into the care sector; other people moving house who forgot to tell the Elections Office; and those whose first language wasn’t English and relied on relatives for form-filling.

Add into the mix the electoral registration challenge Birmingham had long faced with up to 10% lower-than-average rates in areas with predominantly black, Asian and mixed cultures speaking a range of community languages, and the city councillors’ concerns looked well-founded.

Karen Pagett, who coordinated the campaign at Birmingham City Council, said: “This was a complex campaign. I’d worked with our Elections Office to identify the six inner-city wards where registration rates were much lower than average, plus five broad social groups that were most prone to the negative impact of IER.

“But it was clear from the start it would be impossible to get precise enough statistics from campaign posters and flyers or print adverts or organic social media to satisfy council members with the stakes so high.”

CAN came up with a Citizen Reach digital media strategy that aimed to improve the chance of getting voter-age citizens to the online registration portal.

Using creative content produced by Birmingham’s in-house team, tailored to five different social groups in its imagery and messaging, CAN used profile data to target their preferred websites and social channels and geo-locations aligned with the six city wards with lowest registration rates. They also continually worked to optimise targeting as the campaign was running.

The results were impressive. Over a 17-day period in September 2015 – chosen to coincide with voter registration forms being posted to households for the December 2015 Electoral Register – the campaign delivered:

  • A total of 7,909 visits to the Birmingham online voter registration page.
  • An average click-through rate nearly five times the industry benchmark.
  • Reach of 400,000-450,000 citizens of voting age in Birmingham, roughly 60% of the voting-age population.
  • An estimated 150,000 16 to 24-year-olds reached via ads matched specifically to young audiences with a click-through rate four times greater than the industry benchmark.

Karen Pagett said: “The fact that CAN could provide us with a breakdown of key information such as the geo-locations of those who clicked on the ads was invaluable when you’re trying to reach very specific audiences – and proving it to council members.”

Publication of the Electoral Register on 1 December 2015 showed there were 20,000 Birmingham people qualified to vote who had not registered via IER – which was way down on the 66,000 missing on 1 January that year.

The catastrophic falling away of up to 140,000 from the Electoral Register that had so worried local politicians had been averted.

After a follow-up campaign with CAN in the run-up to the local elections of May 2016 (plus an extra blast of CAN digital activity around the EU Referendum the next month) the total number of Birmingham electors on the register grew from 708,945 on 1 December 2015 to 742,436 on 20 June 2016 – an increase of 33,491 (4.7%).

Read more on how to reach the right people with your digital campaigns. Or contact CAN to arrange a chat.